With Afghanistan so dominant in the media it is sometimes difficult to remember the myriad of other tasks which are fulfilled by the Armed Forces in times of regional or national crisis.

"When the news emerged that our troops would be handing over responsibility for operations in Sangin to the Americans I was, perhaps like many people, filled with mixed emotions.

I felt a sense of relief, hoping that the rate of our casualties would reduce; sadness at the tragic cost of our presence in the region and, of course, enormous pride in the extraordinary courage and determination of the soldiers, marines and airmen who continue to work day by day in Helmand in the face of extreme adversity.

During my visit to Afghanistan in March I was able to see for myself the heroic efforts of our troops on the front line of the fight against the Taliban, operating in the most dangerous and demanding conditions.

What struck me most of all was the enduring qualities of those I met - their physical and moral courage; their integrity, service and sacrifice and of course their professionalism and unquenchable humour. It was a humbling experience.

I remember these qualities well from my time serving in the Royal Navy nearly forty years ago.

And it seems to me they are the golden thread which links the Servicemen and women of today with the generations that have gone before. While the red tunics and muskets have been replaced with desert combats and SA80 rifles, the men and women serving in our Armed Forces remain much the same.

They are brave, doggedly determined, robust and of course roguish, with a wicked sense of humour that sees them through their darkest hours.

With Afghanistan so dominant in the media it is sometimes difficult to remember the myriad of other tasks which are fulfilled by the Armed Forces in times of regional or national crisis.

In recent years, our sailors, soldiers and airmen have had to turn their hands to a staggering variety of tasks, helping the civil authorities wherever they can.

These tasks have included holding back floodwaters in England and Germany; building bridges in Cockermouth, Cumbria; disposing of livestock; fire-fighting; defusing munitions left over from the First and Second World Wars; protecting our fisheries; performing Public Duties (which contributes enormously and crucially to this country's economy through tourism to London) and, of course, providing Britain's outstanding search-and-rescue capability.

It is also important to remember that, contrary to what people may imagine, the Royal Navy is also playing a key role in Afghanistan through the Fleet Air Arm and Naval medical and nursing staff. The latter are so often the unsung heroes and heroines of overseas operations.

Only recently, it was my privilege to present a number of awards at an investiture in Buckingham Palace to men and women from across the Armed Services (among them five Military Cross recipients and three Conspicuous Gallantry Cross recipients) and to thank them for their outstandingly courageous and selfless contribution to this country of ours.

Today, I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to all those serving in the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force - and, of course, too, our veterans - for their enduring commitment and sacrifice.

We are, I am sure you will agree, extraordinarily lucky to have so many men and women who are prepared to risk so much in order that we may live in peace and security at home. I remember well the constant anxiety which pervades every waking hour when a loved one is many hundreds of miles from home, in harm's way.

Today I want to highlight the important role of the remarkable families of our Armed Forces, whose unstinting support is so vital to our troops' success on operations.

Their loyalty, love and forbearance is, quite simply, what makes the whole difference.

We owe them all an immense debt of gratitude.

I am, therefore, delighted to lend my support once again to the Sun Military Awards, "The Millies" - an event which provides us all with a special opportunity to recognise the work of our Armed Forces and to show our appreciation for all that they continue to do through their service to Queen and Country."